For many farming communities in North Dakota, nothing is sounding the alarm with more urgency than flooding. Over the summer, it seemed every headline was about the unbelievable amounts of rainfall. And, adding to the extreme weather was the unprecedented October blizzard earlier this month. This large scale precipitation has been so devastating that Governor Burgum declared a statewide flood emergency on October 21.
What’s caused the flooding behind this emergency declaration? The unparalleled amount of water is due, in part, to climate change – a problem affecting the entire United States, but distressing rural America uniquely. For rural communities, including those in North Dakota, weather anomalies like this don’t just mean atypical temperatures that can be aided by an outfit change, it means agriculture, the industry keeping the state’s economy afloat, is threatened.
North Dakota was the wettest state in the nation and experienced its rainiest month in almost 130 years this summer, with a total of 9.06 inches of rainfall during September. Then, the mid-October snowstorm only added to the overland flooding, dropping as much as 30 inches of snow and setting new records.
Much like North Dakota’s land, farmers are swimming in a river of problems. Among them are the fact that billions of dollars of crops are unharvested thanks to flooded fields. And, because soil is drenched, planting season next year may be delayed.
More than just affecting crops, wet roads and flooded pastures are disturbing farmers’ ability to care for livestock, and threaten making hauling harvested crops near impossible. The problems don’t stop there, in fact, it seems more rain and snow are expected each week, causing residents across the state to try and intervene where they can.
In Jamestown, my hometown, residents are going as far as using 50,000 sandbags to fight the flooding. Growing up there, I remember many summers when the Reservoir waters were so low it made the “island” more like a hill surrounded by beach and canoeing in parts of the James River meant getting out and walking while pulling your canoe over dirt.
Approximately two weeks ago, noting the severity and urgency caused by the flooding, Governor Burgum called a state of emergency, recognizing the damage the flooding is having on the entire state’s economy. “There’s an economic hardship that we’re facing here relative to this fall’s harvest that is likely unprecedented,” Governor Burgum has said.
Governor Burgum’s order is a welcome step and has cleared the way for North Dakota to request federal funding and other aid, but it isn’t enough for our state officials to be the only ones responding to these issues.
We need our leaders in Washington to do more. North Dakotans need federal lawmakers to work with state leadership to help prevent events like this from happening in the first place. Improving infrastructure by including flood prevention, watershed management programs, and more, so extreme weather – which is likely to only increase as our climate warms – can be better managed. President Trump and the Republican party are not addressing the immediate needs of North Dakotans. Democrats have the opportunity to listen to the infrastructure needs of rural Americans, and work to enact thoughtful legislation to bolster rural resiliency.
About the Author: Tessa Gould grew up in Jamestown, ND and attended college there. Rumor is that’s where her love of the color orange began. She has served four Members of Congress, two U.S. Senators and worked on countless campaigns in flyover country. Her professional work has focused on rural economies, health care delivery and tribal sovereignty. After serving as Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s Chief of Staff, she has joined her One Country Project as Executive Director. She is also a partner at Forbes Tate Partners in Washington DC. where she lives with her two bulldogs, Finley and Sully and attends a lot of Nationals games while wearing a Yankees hat.